Giebelstadt, West Germany

1956 – Project GENETRIX – Assorted Sources

Courtesy of Central Inteligence Agency

While the Agency (CIA) was making its final preparations for U-2 overflights, the Air Force started a reconnaissance project that would cause considerable protest around the world and threaten the existence of the U-2 overflight program before it even began. Project GENETRIX involved the use of camera-carrying balloons to obtain high-altitude photography of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China. This project had its origins in a RAND Corporation study from 1951. By the end of 1955, the Air Force had overcome a number of technical problems in camera design and recovery techniques and had manufactured a large number of balloons for use in the project. President Eisenhower gave his approval on 27 December 1955, and two weeks later the launches from bases in Western Europe began. By the end of February 1956, the Air Force had launched a total of 516 balloons.

Project GENETRIX was much less successful than its sponsors had hoped. Once launched, the balloons were at the mercy of the prevailing winds, and many tended to drift towards southern Europe and then across the Black Sea and the desert areas of China. These balloons therefore missed the prime target areas, which lay in the higher latitudes. Large numbers of balloons did not succeed in crossing the Soviet Union and China, some because they were shot down by hostile aircraft, others because they prematurely extended their ballast supplies and descended too soon. Only 46 payloads were eventually recovered (one more a year later and the last not until 1958) from the 516 balloons that had been launched. In four of these payloads the camera had malfunctioned, and in another eight the photography was of no intelligence value. Thus, only 34 balloons succeeded in obtaining useful photographs. This amounted to more than 13,000 exposures with most of the coverage in Siberia and northern China.

The low success rate of project GENETRIX balloons was not the only problem encountered; far more serious was the storm of protest and unfavorable publicity that the balloon overflights provoked. Although the Air Force had issued a cover story that the balloons were being used for weather research connected with the International Geophysical Year, Eastern European nations protested strongly to the United States and to international aviation authorities, claiming that the balloons endangered civilian aircraft. The Soviet Union sent strongly worded protest notes to the United States and the nations from which the balloons had been launched. The Soviets also collected numerous polyethylene gasbags, camera payloads, and transmitters from GENETRIX balloons and put them on display in Moscow for the world press.

All of this publicity and protest led President Eisenhower to conclude that "the balloons give more legitimate grounds for irritation than could be matched by the good obtained from them", and he ordered the project halted. On 7 February 1956 Secretary of State Dulles informed the Soviet Union that no more "weather research" balloons would be released, but he did not offer an apology for the overflights.

Despite the furor caused by GENETRIX, Air Force Chief of Staff Twining proposed yet another balloon project only five weeks later, in mid-March 1956. This project would employ even higher flying balloons than GENETRIX and would be ready in 18 months. President Eisenhower informed the Air Force, however, that he was "not interested in any more balloons".

Although the photo intelligence gained from Project GENETRIX was limited in quality, it was still some of the best and most complete photography obtained of the Soviet Union since World War II. It was referred to as "pioneer" photography because it provided a baseline for all future overhead photography. Even innocuous photos of such things as forests and streams proved valuable in later years when U-2 and satellite photography revealed construction activity.

Of still greater importance to the U-2 program, however, was the data that US and NATO radars obtained as they tracked the paths of the balloons – whose average height was 45,800 feet – over the Soviet Block. This data provided the most accurate record to date of high-altitude wind currents, knowledge that meteorologists were later able to put to use to determine optimum flightpaths for U-2 flights.

One completely fortuitous development from Project GENETRIX had nothing to do with the cameras but involved a steel bar. This bar served a dual purpose, the rigging of the huge polyethylene gasbag was secured to the top of the bar and the camera-payload and automatic-ballasting equipment was attached to the bottom. By sheer chance, the length of the bar – 91 centimetres – corresponded to the wavelength of the radio frequency used by Soviet radar known by its NATO designator as TOKEN. This was an S-band radar used by Soviet forces for early warning and ground-controlled intercept. The bar on the GENETRIX balloons resonated when struck by TOKEN radar pulses, making it possible for radar operators at US and NATO installations on the periphery of the Soviet Union to locate a number of previously unknown TOKEN radars.

These radar findings, coupled with other intercepts made during the balloon flights, provided extensive data on Warsaw Pact radar networks, radar sets, and ground-controlled interception techniques. Analysis of these intercepts revealed the altitude capabilities and tracking accuracy of radars, the methods used by Warsaw Pact nations to notify each other of the balloons’ passage (handing off), and the altitudes at which Soviet aircraft could intercept the balloons. All of this information could be directly applied to future U-2 missions.

These positive results from Project GENETRIX did not outweigh the political liabilities of the international protests. CIA officials became concerned that the ill will generated by balloon overflights could sour the Eisenhower administration on all overflights, including those by the U-2, which was just about ready for deployment. Therefore, DDCI Cabell wrote to the Air Force Chief of Staff Twining in February 1956 to warn against further balloon flights because of the "additional political pressures being generated against all balloon operations and overflights, thus increasing the difficulties of policy decisions which would permit such operations in the future".

In addition to its concern for the future of the U-2 program, the Agency feared that President Eisenhower’s anger at balloon overflights might result in the curtailment of the balloon program that the Free Europe Committee – a covert Agency operation based in West Germany – used to release propaganda pamphlets over Eastern Europe.

Courtesy of Robert Craig Johnson

On January 10, 1956, nine translucent, polyethylene balloons billowed up from the ground and climbed away from the American bases at Incirlik, Turkey (8 launches) and Giebelstadt, West Germany (1 launch), initiating an ill-fated attempt to obtain intelligence on USSR using unmanned, free-flying balloons. The first midair recovery of a balloon payload occurred on 13 January 1956. Project Genetrix, inaugurated the polyethylene balloon technology recently used in the first manned circumnavigation of the globe and, in all likelihood, sparked the UFO craze that has given rise to conspiracy theories and television series worldwide. But they seem to have produced little in the way of useful intelligence, at least compared to the political and diplomatic damage they did. And, fatefully, they spurred the Soviet Union to pour resources into a high-altitude air-defense system that would eventually claim Francis Gary Powers, the overflight programs, and whatever chance there was for an early, negotiated resolution of the Cold War.

The Genetrix program took its impetus from what has arguably been America's greatest intelligence weakness, a tendency to see every real or potential enemy as a more powerful and still more capable version of itself. The United States ended World War 2 as the largest and most productive economy in the world. It had the world's most powerful navy and air force and the demonstrated ability to overwhelm even technically superior enemies with vast quantities of more reliable, better-made equipment. Most importantly, it had nuclear weapons and an enormous lead in the science and technology needed to produce and deliver them. Yet America was afraid, certain that it was out-gunned and out-numbered by a moribund socialist state that had suffered the highest human and material losses of any of the combatant powers. However good America's bombers, submarines, carriers, rockets, and tanks might be, Americans always believed that the Soviets' had something better and more numerous.

As we now know, the much-vaunted military superiority of the Soviet Union in the 1950s and early 1960s was an enormous bluff. The "bomber gap," the "missile gap," and the supposed hordes of tanks that exercised the imaginations of apprehensive Western defense planners were largely or entirely nonexistent. But, in the 1940s and 1950s, the United States had no way of knowing this for sure. The Soviet Union was, as Churchill put it, "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Military attaches, trade delegations, commercial and cultural secretaries, tourists, visiting scholars, even foreign Communists were kept on a very short leash when behind the Iron Curtain and barred from seeing much of the country. To a society that is open to a fault (one remembers President Johnson exhibiting his surgical scars to all and sundry and doctors giving a detailed description of the state of Reagan's colon in the interest of forthrightness and completeness), the Soviet attitude was downright threatening. America felt that it had to see what the Russians were hiding in there and that it had a right to see, as a matter of self defense.

The Russians saw things very differently, of course. The Soviets saw themselves as the peaceable victims of unending Western aggression. The West kept the workers' paradise poor and defenseless through an unending campaign of sabotage, subversion, economic blockade, and open warfare, from the Intervention of 1919 through the Anti-Comintern Pact and the all-too-recent German invasion. By 1945, the Soviet Union was determined to put an end to this threat once and for all, by establishing a strong defense rooted in a sound, socialist economy. To achieve this, it desperately needed a breathing space, a chance to recover from the horrific losses of the war years unhindered by Western harassment. Yet such a breathing space could be had only if Western aggression were deterred for a while. How do you deter an aggressor when you are, in reality, all but powerless? You bluff.

Bluffs were the USSR's only viable deterrent in the immediate post-war years. To maintain them, it would go to almost any lengths. To keep the actual state of its military and industry secret, the Soviet Union closed its borders, restricted the movements of foreign visitors, and kept its own citizens from traveling (and talking) abroad. It maintained an aggressive and capable counterintelligence service. Above all, it did everything possible to prevent overflights of its national territory.

The Genetrix missions thus put the US and the USSR at loggerheads for reasons neither side really understood. The US felt threatened by Soviet secrecy and entitled to respond to the perceived threat. The USSR saw secrecy as its only effective, defensive weapon and Western calls for greater openness (from requests for cultural exchanges to Eisenhower's "Open Skies" proposals) as attempts at disarming it. Such considerations explain the enormous effort, expense, and energy that the United States and the Soviet Union expended on the balloon program.

As many cover stories would emphasize, the balloon reconnaissance program began with a series of stratospheric research and meteorologic data-collection programs in the 1930s. These small aerostats, 12 to 16 foot diameter, showed that free-flying balloons could fly predictable courses over long ranges at considerable altitudes, while carrying useful payloads.

During the Second World War, Britain and Japan extended the pre-war work to produce long-range, offensive weapons. Japan's Fu-Go program launched about 9,300, 33 foot-diameter, paper balloons against the US from bases in Japan between November 1944 and the end of the war. Each carried four 5-kg incendiary bombs and one 15-kg fragmentation bomb or a 12-kg thermite incendiary bomb. The Japanese balloons tied down some USAAF abd USN fighters, but achieved little of note otherwise. One killed a woman and five children in Oregon. But Fu-Go did show that a simple control system could allow a balloon to fly over intercontinental distances at a consistent height. Britain's Outward program was rather more successful, from a military point of view. Outward targeted the Nazi power grid, an objective peculiarly vulnerable to balloon attack. Britain launched 99,142 balloons, 53,543 loaded with incendiaries and 45,599 trailing a long, thin, copper wire. On July 12, 1942, one of the latter short-circuited a 110,000-volt line near Leipzig and paid for the entire program. Overload protection at the Bohlen power plant could not respond rapidly enough to a short of such magnitude. A generator oversped, caught fire, and destroyed the plant, along with its irreplaceable generators.

In the post-war period, strong, light-weight, polyethylene plastic allowed much larger, higher flying balloons. At first these were used primarily for high-altitude research, under the US Air Force's Project Skyhook. But the growing secretiveness of the USSR and escalating international tensions soon made their intelligence-gathering potential of primary concern. By the time that the USSR rejected Eisenhower's Open Skies proposal at Geneva in 1955, balloon reconnaissance had a priority level equal with the development of the hydrogen bomb. This cast a mantle of secrecy over the balloon programs that was soon to give rise to an entire UFO subculture.

After a series of test and development flights had been performed, under the codenames Grandson and Grayback, the first operational flights, codenamed Genetrix, were undertaken shortly after the New Year, 1956. The Genetrix balloons were far larger than any weather balloon and larger than anything tried during the war. Each was 100 feet (30 m) in diameter or more, at altitude. While the silvery plastic envelope made the craft highly visible in good weather, it also made them hard to track with radar. At their planned cruising altitude of 72,000 feet (22,153 m), they would be essentially invulnerable to Soviet defenses. Operational balloons would be launched from bases in Turkey and West Germany, as well as from USN aircraft carriers and would be able to fly for 5 to 7 days, more than enough time to transit the Soviet Union. When they returned to friendly airspace, a coded radio signal would cut the gondola loose, to descend by parachute. A specially modified C-119F transport plane would then snag the payload at 20,000 feet and reel it in until handlers could wrestle it into the cargo hold of the aircraft.

C-119F recovery aircraft

Unfortunately, much did not go according to plan. For reasons that have never been explained, the USAF restricted the operational ceiling of Genetrix balloons to 55,000 ft (16,925 m) rather than the 72,000 ft (22,153 m) planned. This brought the craft down to a height where Soviet defenses could engage them. Since they attained their maximum ceiling only at midday and descended in the afternoon, as they began to cool, they flew lower still for several hours during daylight. By planning their fighter attacks for dawn and late afternoon, the Soviets were able to intercept them relatively easily. The ill-considered addition of a metal "recovery pole" (to facilitate retrieval of gondolas that fell into the sea) greatly increased the radar cross-section of the balloon, making it readily visible to Soviet early warning and tracking radars. Ground control-intercept officers could use the advance warning to optimally position fighters for attacks during the vulnerable periods. The lower altitude decreed by the Air Force also caused unforeseen design problems. More unsettled, lower altitude winds forced the balloons to jettison ballast and vent gas more rapidly than planned. When the ballast was gone, the balloons would vent gas steadily until, while still over the Soviet Far East, they sank below their 30,000 feet safe altitude and self-destructed. Of 219 balloons launched in the two-week time period at the start of the project, when the Soviets were still unprepared, 167 were lost before reaching the recovery areas. After that, losses rose steeply until, in one four-day period, none of the 112 aerostats launched made it across the USSR. Even when they did, they were often not recovered successfully. The radio cutdown device proved highly unreliable and mid-air snatches proved difficult and occasionally dangerous. The C-119 was aerodynamically ill-suited to the mission, even after the normal swinging tail had been replaced by a beavertail and ramp arrangement. With the heavy load of extra fuel carried, its performance at 20,000 feet was poor.

Worse, what had been meant to be a clandestine, low-visibility effort had proved anything but. At the 35,000 to 55,000 feet altitudes the balloons typically flew at, their polyethylene envelopes were easily visible by both daylight and moonlight. Their size alone was enough to explode the pretense that they were weather balloons. But balloons were also captured intact. Genetrix envelopes and payloads came down in Russia and in neutral countries. Gondolas and their incriminating payloads were recovered, in spite of the assurances of project specialists, who guaranteed that they would be destroyed. Eisenhower feared that the US had given the USSR a potentially devastating propaganda weapon and a ready excuse for aggressive moves against the Western allies. Spying in peacetime was still generally regarded as an act of war and a violation of international law. So, despite the valuable photographs that were occasionally recovered (8% of the USSR and China were mapped using Genetrix imagery), the program was not worth the continued risk, and Eisenhower stopped it - for the moment.

C-119 Recovery Activity

The Discoverer XIV was the first satellite to be ejected from an orbiting space vehicle and to be recovered in midair on August 18, 1960. The capsule was launched atop a Thor booster rocket. Over Alaska after its 17th pass around the earth, the Agena ejected Discoverer XIV from its nose, and retrorockets attached to the reentry vehicle fired to slow it for the return from orbit. After Discoverer XIV reentered the atmosphere, it released a parachute and floated earthward. On its third try, an Air Force C-119 recovery aircraft from the 6593rd Test Squadron based at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, successfully snagged the parachute canopy with the recovery gear trailing behind the aircraft. A winch operator aboard the C-119 then reeled in the Discoverer XIV after its 27-hour, 450,000-mile journey through space. The equipment and techniques for mid-air recovery of data capsules had been developed in an earlier balloon reconnaissance program called Project GENETRIX. The recovered capsule in midair also included the camera and it was the first successful Corona Mission. The film was removed from the capsule and sent to Washington DC under maximum security. The photos showed more coverage than all 24 previoud U-2 flights combined. Resolution was 35-40 feet compared with two feet for the U-2.

Courtesy of Joel Carpenter

Tracking and recovery squadrons were deemed ready for deployment in the summer of 1955, soon after the Soviet rejection of the Open Skies proposal. Under cover of the ostensibly scientific Moby Dick project, WS-119L tracking sites were set up in Guam, the Philippines, Midway, Okinawa, Japan, and Alaska. By the end of October, 2,500 balloons and their launch crews were moved to five launch sites in Europe: Gardermoen, Norway; Evanton, Scotland; Oberpfaffenhofen and Giebelstadt, West Germany; and Incirlik, Turkey. A few days later fifty C-119 recovery planes were deployed to Okinawa, Japan and Alaska. By the end of November 1955, a hemisphere-wide network of balloon launching, tracking and recovery sites surrounded the Soviet Union. The project's code name was changed to "Genetrix," and the launch facilities stood by for orders to begin the operation. In view of the great sensitivity of the project, permission to commence the overflights would come directly from President Eisenhower, who was far from enthusiastic about the use of what he considered "dirty trick" reconnaissance techniques.

Since late summer of 1955, to help provide cover for WS-119L, a CIA front-organization, the National Committee for a Free Europe, which ran Radio Free Europe, had been launching hundreds of small balloons carrying propaganda leaflets into the skies over eastern Europe, much to the consternation of the Soviets. Then, on January 9, 1956, at State Department request, the Air Force began a well-publicized series of "White Cloud" weather balloon flights to further blur the balloon story. The White Cloud vehicles were virtually identical to the Genetrix reconnaissance devices with the exception of their gondolas, which contained only scientific equipment. A press release was then issued explaining that similar balloons would soon be launched carrying cameras "to photograph clouds." After a final conference with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and assurances from Donald Quarles that the potential benefits of the reconnaissance project were worth the risks, Eisenhower reluctantly gave his go-ahead. On January 10, the first wave or launch of Genetrix -- one from West Germany and eight from Turkey -- soared into the stratospheric windstreams to begin their missions. The next day, nine more were launched from Germany. On the 12th, the base in Scotland got one airborne, adding to seven from the German sites. Ten WS-119Ls were launched from the various bases on each of the succeeding four days. On the 17th, the rate was increased to twenty per day. Within two weeks of the outset of the project, over two hundred Genetrix were sent into the the skies over the USSR. By January 13, three balloons, the survivors of the first day's wave, exited Soviet airspace. The gondolas were successfully cut down by radio command and grabbed from the air by C-119s. In the ensuing days, about one Genetrix appeared in the recovery zones for every four launched. Eisenhower and Dulles stood ready for the anticipated Soviet protests. Days dragged into weeks. The Soviets were in a difficult position. While they were obviously enraged by the overflights, they were reluctant to call attention to their vulnerability to such tactics. By the end of January, in the absence of complaints, the Air Force decided to raise the launch rate goal to thirty per day, then forty. On February 3, a Genetrix launched from Gardermoen overflew Oslo. For the next two hours, as the gleaming ovoid drifted overhead, people in the Norwegian capital and its suburbs sent in a bevy of UFO reports.

Behind their facade of official silence, the Soviets were not so easily deceived. They undoubtedly knew that the balloons were coming, but even so, it took time to devise effective tactics for engaging the high-flying intruders. The US had given them one out: at the last minute, the maximum altitude of the WS-119Ls was set at 55,000 feet, and minimum altitude, at which ballast would be automatically dropped to prevent further descent, was programmed at about 49,000 feet. This was at least 15,000 feet below the operating altitudes that the devices were capable of reaching. A MiG-15 fighter straining at full power in the thin air above 50,000 feet would therefore have a brief opportunity to shoot down a Genetrix. The Soviets also had heavy antiaircraft artillery pieces that were capable of lobbing shells to those heights. (Ironically, the Fire Can radars guiding the interceptors and guns were based on Lend-Lease models of the old US SCR-584, the same type used by the Sunset Project to combat the Japanese Fu-Go balloons a decade before, and the same type widely used in the US to track weather balloon RAWIN targets). The Soviets undoubtedly faced the same difficulties as the US Air Force had in detecting and tracking the Japanese Fu-Go and its own plastic balloons, but they quickly realized that the WS-119s were at their most vulnerable minimum altitude when their lifting gas was coolest -- just after dawn and just before sunset, the same hours when low sun angles made their glistening envelopes most conspicuous. The reason for the low cruise altitude setting is unknown. Perhaps Eisenhower felt that the Genetrix overflights would seem less provocative if the Soviets had at least a fighting chance of shooting the devices down.

By exploiting these vulnerabilities, the Soviets soon blunted the Genetrix assault. USAF recovery crews began to note a sharp decline in the numbers exiting Soviet airspace, and by the end of January, no balloons were coming through at all. Launch sites were not meeting daily quotas, and even when Genetrix passed safely into the recovery zones, their command receivers frequently malfunctioned, preventing payload cut-down and retrieval. It was increasingly obvious that the Soviets were well aware of the project. Eisenhower and his advisors were considering termination of the program by the beginning of February. Finally, on February 4, the inevitable happened. Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet deputy Foreign Minister, formally issued a "decisive protest" over the "gross violation of Soviet air space" by "aerial spheres" to the US ambassador in Moscow:

The apparatus suspended from the aerial spheres includes automatic photographic cameras for aerial photography, radio transmitters, radio receivers and other things.... Investigation shows these spheres and their suspended apparatus are manufactured in the United States.

The Air Force responded by pushing its crews to launch as many Genetrix as physically possible. But Eisenhower had had enough. Foster Dulles asked Quarles to halt the operation on the morning of February 6. A few WS-119Ls continued to straggle into recovery areas over the next few days, and while their camera packages were being secured, the State Department piously stuck to the weather balloon cover story:

The US Government is happy to supply information complementary to what is already public knowledge. Under US auspices, a meteorological survey is being carried out by the launching of balloons which are in effect miniature 'satellites' and which remain aloft for several days at a very considerable height...

Brazenly, the statement actually requested that the Soviets return balloon payloads that had fallen within their territory. The US Army and Air Force revealed that Soviet weather balloons had been recovered in Japan and Alaska in recent weeks and offered to exchange them for the US devices. Instead, on the evening of the 9th, in a show of righteous idignation, the Soviets placed the remains of about fifty shredded balloons and gondolas on display outside Molotov's residence in Moscow. They bitterly attacked the US administration for treading perilously close to war by conducting peacetime aerial espionage. Not only could the pirate devices take photographs of the territory of the USSR, but they could carry biological warfare agents, the Soviets angrily charged, in a reference to Project "Flying Cloud".

Four hundred forty eight Genetrix had been launched during the month-long project. Of that number (a fraction of the planned 2,500), thirty four gondolas were recovered with usable film aboard. These yielded about 13,000 frames showing random areas of the Soviet and Chinese hinterland -- a million square miles of snowy forests, icy lakes, farms, factories and mountains. Reportedly, Genetrix discovered only one target of significance -- a nuclear materials production complex. The results of the secretive but remarkably conspicuous reconnaissance balloon effort, which had provoked so much tragedy, confusion and rumor at home and abroad, seemed barely worth the effort.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada

The following detail has been extracted from official 61 AC&W Squadron Historical Reports, an RCAF long range radar station which was operational in Metz France between August 1955 and December 1962.

10 Jan 56

In view of the intended release of many meteorological balloons, nicknames "Volleyball" from sites at Oberpfaffenhofen and Giebelstadt in West Germany by American agencies and because of the unknown responses which these balloons might evoke, Air Division called for an increase of the Alert defence force. Back-up Zulu sections at each of the Wings not holding down the normal Zulu commitment will come to readiness states at normal Zulu times. Two back-up sections will be at each of the applicable Wings. The first Volleyball was released from Giebelstadt at 2350Z.

11 Jan 56

The first reaction to "Volleyball" was reported by a USAF CRP which carried track 508C, identified Hostile, headed toward a balloon at 1933Z

12 Jan 56

"Volleyball" releases continue.

13 Jan 56

Limited "Volleyball" releases during the day.

16 Jan 56

"Volleyball" releases began with nine releases during the night.

19 Jan 56

Six "Volleyball" releases during the day.

20 Jan 56

Seven "Volleyballs" during the night, 11 releases during the day.

23 Jan 56

Eleven "Volleyballs" but otherwise little business.

24 Jan 56

No "Volleyballs".

25 Jan 56

Requirement for back-up Zulus dropped. Reaction to balloons has been negligible.

26 Jan 56

Ten "Volleyball" releases. Track 438 picked up by YJ at 245 NM range; heading east, Angels 50, speed 40 knots. Identified as a balloon and was seen later by USAF CRCs.

27 Jan 56

"Volleyball" back-up Zulus reinstated.

28 Jan 56

Ten "Volleyball" releases.

29 Jan 56

Six "Volleyball" releases.

30 Jan 56

11 "Volleyball" releases. Little activity as weather continues poor.

3 Feb 56

Ten "Volleyball" releases.

20 Feb 56

"Volleyball" releases suspended for political reasons.

Pinetree Line Web Site Comment: It is interesting to take note that the true nature of Project Genetrix was not divulged to other NATO countries at the time. The Historical Record dated 10 January 1956 for 61 AC&W Squadron, Metz, France makes mention of "the intended release of many meteorological balloons". It is also intersting to take note that there was sufficient concern to call for an increase of the Alert defence force for back-up Zulu sections at each of the Wings. It must be mentioned that 1 Air Division only consisted of the F-86 Sabre at the time, but with three squadrons of 20 Sabres per squadron, this would indicate an RCAF contingency of 240 jet fighters amongst the four Wings.

Courtesy of Wayne Grover

I remember the balloon launches well. There were not many but I saw a few during the daylight. It was a simple operation using a few vehicles and a dozen or so men who helped lay out the envelope and fill it with gas. When it lifted, it was very long and silvery. As it ascended, it grew in size but was out of sight before it fully inflated due to less atmospheric pressure at altitude.

A truck carrying the "package" in its bed followed while the balloon lifted and took it from the bed at wind speed. It rose slowly and disappeared in a matter of minutes. We tracked it on radar as it generally went east or north easterly. The launches took plave during the months of January and February 1956, and then - just as quickly as they had started, the launches stopped. I do not recall there being any special security involved with the launches.

Pinetree Line Web Site Comment:

Wayne Grover was a Radar Operator with the 602nd AC&W Squadron located at Giebelstadt between April 1955 and July 1957.

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Updated: September 29, 2003